What It's About

TRIBEWORK is about consuming the process of life, the journey, together.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

10 pointers toward a trustworthy relationship


I am very often asked what it is that you look for in the early going when dating and courting.  I’m also asked very often what the signs are to be particularly watchful of; you know, when charm is at full tilt and butter wouldn’t melt in a future partner’s mouth.

These are such important questions, because picking a dud early on is critically important before they begin ruining your life.  How often is it that the charmer, the one full of humour and pizzazz wins the heart, and it doesn’t matter the kind of relationship.  Working relationships are just as fraught as romances are.

We’re naturally drawn to those who often have the bent to turn nasty.

We never quite connect the dots that the charm it takes to sweep a person off their feet is often the influence, later on, that manipulates.

Here are ten things to watch for:

1.             Can you say no?  Extend that to how much are you allowed to have your own view?  Is your view cherished by the other?  These questions, like the following ones, are applicable to any relationship.

2.             How do they manage power?  Can they be trusted with it?  Who are they when no one’s looking?  If you discover they have integrity, keep watching, and be grateful, but also keep watchful because appearances can deceive, and perfection is in nobody.  These matters are universal in applicability.

3.             Are they functionally capable?  What’s the work ethic like?  Do they serve others willingly and enthusiastically or do they expect to be served?  Do they love and respect others or expect to be loved and respected?  In short, are they prepared to work hard for the relationship?  Is your diligence going to be returned to you?

4.             How safe do they make you feel?  In the gut I mean?  Chances are your gut knows instantly.  Don’t make excuses for poor behaviour if that ‘something’ they have is compellingly good.  Again, these things are relevant in any and every relationship.  A person who’s a saint 90 percent of the time undoes all that work if they’re violent one time in ten.

5.             What do others you know and love say about them?  What do they really say and feel?  Are those you know and love allowed to be truthful with you about this?  Or do you just agree to disagree and ‘don’t go there’?  Denials of these kinds usually end badly.

6.             Were you attracted to them romantically or to work with them because they ‘looked good’ or because it felt good?  It’s okay if that’s so.  Most of us make decisions based on face value, yet what we don’t see is the character beneath an ‘also ran’ who didn’t get a look in.  In the longer run, they may have had the character that would have made for a sustainable relationship.

7.             How much do they seek control or to control you or others?  Someone who needs to be in control is worthy of a red flag.  There will be no happiness in a relationship with such a person. Even when they’re in control, they’re a tyrant; just a happy one.

8.             Do they want the best for you?  Many of the ones who SAY they want the best for you actually want the exact opposite.  It’s those who act as if you’re important (and just as important as they are) who are keepers.  This, like all the above, goes for all relationships.

9.             Are your dependent others really safe?  Whether the people we relate with are directly in contact with our vulnerable dependents or not is immaterial in most cases.  A physical abuse is possible, but so is our neglect of those loved dependent ones because of how we’re treated.  How people treat us — and I’m talking abuse here — has an impact far further than we imagine.  Sometimes we can’t be in a relationship for the flow on impacts we cannot fully see.

10.          Is their heart capable of being open, safe, vulnerable, soft?  We are all a little hard-of-heart from time to time.  But some people’s hearts are calloused and defiant.  Others are legalistic and exact — no room for error.  Add to this the partiality of a heart full of unacknowledged bias.  The person we want a working relationship with is someone who sees their own heart — they SEE their own foibles.

Of course, we, ourselves also called to be faithful and trustworthy partners.  WE need to abide by these ten above.  Relationships only work when both parties to a relationship seek to outdo the other in loving action that seeks for the other what they’d settle for themselves.

Photo by Joseph Chan on Unsplash

Sunday, September 27, 2020

You can’t demand a person forgive when their powerful abuser hasn’t repented


Jesus is always a breath of fresh air, even as by the Holy Spirit we’re convicted to do what repentance demands — to face the people and situations in our lives that deserved better so that all may walk free of whatever bondage impales us.[1]

Jesus never requires us to wed with bondage.  It’s always freedom to which we’re invited.

There is a bondage that Christians may become entrapped in and it surrounds the issue of forgiveness.  I want to suggest it isn’t what you may think it is.

A heinous and abusive theology has abounded

An abusive theology around forgiveness has made its rounds in the past five or so decades.

That sinful theology proceeds from the thought that whatever sin a person does to us, forgiveness is required of us; to let them off the hook, no matter what they’ve done, no matter whether the perpetrator of the sin owns it or not.

That’s right.  Forgiveness has been required of the survivor even if they’ve been abused (bearing zero percent weight of contribution) and the perpetrator of the abusive act refuses to acknowledge it and therefore does not repent of it.

Worse, many times the perpetrator prospers, and the survivor of the abuse has their life seriously curtailed; not truly because of ‘bitterness’ but more accurately, because their abuser’s wilful heart has poured contempt on the Holy Spirit in that abused person.  (How many have walked away from the faith because of unreconciled abuse?!)  It might be said that the ‘Christian perpetrator’ will not themselves be forgiven by God (Deuteronomy 29:17-19; Mark 3:28-29).

If there is anything that commands our attention as far as living right with our brothers and sisters, it’s what we stand to experience when we MEET our God and can no longer refuse to acknowledge the truth.

But the knowledge of this is spurned by the Christian perpetrator, and in that very act they deny their faith in God — they may as well be saying, “I don’t believe I’ll ever need to account for this!”  There could not be a more commanding example of folly.  All face God, eventually.

Now the blight that is on this church is this: the abusive theology has preferred to favour the wicked and it is abhorrent in God’s sight.

Let’s explore the biblical Joseph

God has directed my thinking of late to the story of Joseph in Genesis 45.  First of all, I was directed to that polarising text in Genesis 50:15-21.  Really these two passages couldn’t speak to one another more.

As Christians we hear people speak of the Joseph account of Genesis 37, 39-50 as kind of a prooftext that God can work in a heart (Joseph’s in this case) and can cause a person (anyone) to forgive a perpetrator.

But with Joseph’s narrative a case in point, I think we might find that forgiveness for Joseph — at least from an abuse survivor’s perspective — is a fait accompli.  For Joseph, a man abused by more than one group of people, we can see why forgiveness is possible.

Before I unpack why, I want to suggest that nobody understands how impossibly difficult forgiveness of an unrepentant perpetrator is for a survivor until they have been abused to such a degree that they asked for none of it and absolutely no justice has yet been (or may ever be) done.

I suggest it merely because those who haven’t had these experiences may struggle to comprehend it and may find it to be excuse-making.  The latter couldn’t be further from the truth!

The issues for Joseph were that he was the one who had come into great power — his abusive brothers who had been in the power role had since been rendered powerless.  That doesn’t always occur in life, and I would suggest that RARELY does it happen that the tables are turned; the powerless becoming powerful and vice versa.  This is a nuance that must be taken into account, because it is comparatively easy to forgive someone who pleads for our mercy.  What about cases where there is no such pleading; where there is no repentance and no seeking of forgiveness?

Another important issue for Joseph is that he could see God’s purpose in his suffering, or at least he could by the time his brothers cowered before him.  And of the issue of Potiphar’s wife and that wicked imprisonment, there again is a purpose in that; the deciphering of Pharaoh’s dream.

Being able to see God’s purpose in our suffering will get us through anything.  But for many survivors of abuse there is no such purpose to be seen — it feels senseless.  This propounds the issues of an abuser’s contempt for their God, which is the sort of blasphemy that sets the perpetrator at odds with God’s forgiveness.

There is possibly more to see in this Joseph account that instructs us that this is not a fair biblical example to cast upon the situation of the survivor of unreconciled abuse.

~~~

I just want to say this, having built the above context.  I don’t know any survivor of abuse, whether by face-to-face interaction or online (and I know scores in both camps), who has been able to come close to a sustained forgiveness-of-heart for a perpetrator who does not confess, acknowledge or repent, and who usually prospers despite their abuse.

Churches must understand that nobody can demand a person forgive their more powerful abuser who hasn’t repented.  Churches should also extend grace upon grace for those who, for no fault of their own, are cornered in a grief that may seem ‘bitter’ but really is not.  This ‘unforgiveness’ is not a sin; it’s not helpful, but it’s also not sinful.

The only thing that reconciles abuse situations for many people is justice.

Thank God that that justice inevitably is eternal.  Nobody escapes justice forever, and it is wisdom for all people to face it now, this side of death.

Who would risk the eternality of their relationship with God but the one who says they believe but, by their unreconciled abusive actions, really they don’t?

A pastoral response to a dilemma

I’m sure pastors and churches feel duty bound to fix problems and people.  That’s God’s job.  Many, many situations in life are unresolved.  There is a great deal of maturity in accepting this truth.  It can seem despairing at times.

The worst thing a church or a pastor could do is expect one party — the innocent party — to do the work of reconciling what is broken to make it whole again.  This is a burden churches and pastors are not asked to bear.

An effective pastoral response to a dilemma is lament — to properly mourn that which can only be grieved, and yet do so in the hope that comfort will come (Matthew 5:4).  Pastors and churches are called to be faithful sojourners with survivors.

Nothing in this article suggests a full forgiveness of a perpetrator by a survivor is impossible; indeed it is possible, just not common, and it requires a special grace of God that isn’t afforded to everyone.  We customarily take too much credit for this grace; it’s God’s work and not our own.



[1] Both the perpetrator and the survivor are bonded by a sin — the perpetrator to the sin of denial, the survivor is hamstrung by that denial.  But, the repentant themselves walk free whether they’re forgiven or not, for they have honoured God’s truth.  And as the survivor hears an attempt at an amends made, they walk into at least the possibility of more freedom than they have previously experienced.  If the repentance is real, the survivor may indeed receive complete release from the bondage that held them.



Photo by Daniel J. Schwarz on Unsplash

 

Don’t demand a person forgive when their powerful abuser hasn’t repented


Jesus is always a breath of fresh air, even as by the Holy Spirit we’re convicted to do what repentance demands — to face the people and situations in our lives that deserved better so that all may walk free of whatever bondage impales us.[1]

Jesus never requires us to wed with bondage.  It’s always freedom to which we’re invited.

There is a bondage that Christians may become entrapped in and it surrounds the issue of forgiveness.  I want to suggest it isn’t what you may think it is.

A heinous and abusive theology has abounded

An abusive theology around forgiveness has made its rounds in the past five or so decades.

That sinful theology proceeds from the thought that whatever sin a person does to us, forgiveness is required of us; to let them off the hook, no matter what they’ve done, no matter whether the perpetrator of the sin owns it or not.

That’s right.  Forgiveness has been required of the survivor even if they’ve been abused (bearing zero percent weight of contribution) and the perpetrator of the abusive act refuses to acknowledge it and therefore does not repent of it.

Worse, many times the perpetrator prospers, and the survivor of the abuse has their life seriously curtailed; not truly because of ‘bitterness’ but more accurately, because their abuser’s wilful heart has poured contempt on the Holy Spirit in that abused person.  (How many have walked away from the faith because of unreconciled abuse?!)  It might be said that the ‘Christian perpetrator’ will not themselves be forgiven by God (Deuteronomy 29:17-19; Mark 3:28-29).

If there is anything that commands our attention as far as living right with our brothers and sisters, it’s what we stand to experience when we MEET our God and can no longer refuse to acknowledge the truth.

But the knowledge of this is spurned by the Christian perpetrator, and in that very act they deny their faith in God — they may as well be saying, “I don’t believe I’ll ever need to account for this!”  There could not be a more commanding example of folly.  All face God, eventually.

Now the blight that is on this church is this: the abusive theology has preferred to favour the wicked and it is abhorrent in God’s sight.

Let’s explore the biblical Joseph

God has directed my thinking of late to the story of Joseph in Genesis 45.  First of all, I was directed to that polarising text in Genesis 50:15-21.  Really these two passages couldn’t speak to one another more.

As Christians we hear people speak of the Joseph account of Genesis 37, 39-50 as kind of a prooftext that God can work in a heart (Joseph’s in this case) and can cause a person (anyone) to forgive a perpetrator.

But with Joseph’s narrative a case in point, I think we might find that forgiveness for Joseph — at least from an abuse survivor’s perspective — is a fait accompli.  For Joseph, a man abused by more than one group of people, we can see why forgiveness is possible.

Before I unpack why, I want to suggest that nobody understands how impossibly difficult forgiveness of an unrepentant perpetrator is for a survivor until they have been abused to such a degree that they asked for none of it and absolutely no justice has yet been (or may ever be) done.

I suggest it merely because those who haven’t had these experiences may struggle to comprehend it and may find it to be excuse-making.  The latter couldn’t be further from the truth!

The issues for Joseph were that he was the one who had come into great power — his abusive brothers who had been in the power role had since been rendered powerless.  That doesn’t always occur in life, and I would suggest that RARELY does it happen that the tables are turned; the powerless becoming powerful and vice versa.  This is a nuance that must be taken into account, because it is comparatively easy to forgive someone who pleads for our mercy.  What about cases where there is no such pleading; where there is no repentance and no seeking of forgiveness?

Another important issue for Joseph is that he could see God’s purpose in his suffering, or at least he could by the time his brothers cowered before him.  And of the issue of Potiphar’s wife and that wicked imprisonment, there again is a purpose in that; the deciphering of Pharaoh’s dream.

Being able to see God’s purpose in our suffering will get us through anything.  But for many survivors of abuse there is no such purpose to be seen — it feels senseless.  This propounds the issues of an abuser’s contempt for their God, which is the sort of blasphemy that sets the perpetrator at odds with God’s forgiveness.

There is possibly more to see in this Joseph account that instructs us that this is not a fair biblical example to cast upon the situation of the survivor of unreconciled abuse.

~~~

I just want to say this, having built the above context.  I don’t know any survivor of abuse, whether by face-to-face interaction or online (and I know scores in both camps), who has been able to come close to a sustained forgiveness-of-heart for a perpetrator who does not confess, acknowledge or repent, and who usually prospers despite their abuse.

Churches must understand that nobody can demand a person forgive their more powerful abuser who hasn’t repented.  Churches should also extend grace upon grace for those who, for no fault of their own, are cornered in a grief that may seem ‘bitter’ but really is not.  This ‘unforgiveness’ is not a sin; it’s not helpful, but it’s also not sinful.

The only thing that reconciles abuse situations for many people is justice.

Thank God that that justice inevitably is eternal.  Nobody escapes justice forever, and it is wisdom for all people to face it now, this side of death.

Who would risk the eternality of their relationship with God but the one who says they believe but, by their unreconciled abusive actions, really they don’t?

A pastoral response to a dilemma

I’m sure pastors and churches feel duty bound to fix problems and people.  That’s God’s job.  Many, many situations in life are unresolved.  There is a great deal of maturity in accepting this truth.  It can seem despairing at times.

The worst thing a church or a pastor could do is expect one party — the innocent party — to do the work of reconciling what is broken to make it whole again.  This is a burden churches and pastors are not asked to bear.

An effective pastoral response to a dilemma is lament — to properly mourn that which can only be grieved, and yet do so in the hope that comfort will come (Matthew 5:4).  Pastors and churches are called to be faithful sojourners with survivors.



[1] Both the perpetrator and the survivor are bonded by a sin — the perpetrator to the sin of denial, the survivor is hamstrung by that denial.  But, the repentant themselves walk free whether they’re forgiven or not, for they have honoured God’s truth.  And as the survivor hears an attempt at an amends made, they walk into at least the possibility of more freedom than they have previously experienced.  If the repentance is real, the survivor may indeed receive complete release from the bondage that held them.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Clarity within the confusion of an abusive relationship


Crazy making gets a new definition when a person enters a relationship with a person who diminishes just about every facet of their life.  Give it a year or three and you’ll see if the person you’re in a relationship with is abusive — it hardly ever occurs in the first winsome months.

But begin saying no or putting up sensible boundaries and you’ll attract their ire — it’s either visible rage or a seething withdrawal.  You’ll know it by your reluctance to say no, by your need to give them their own way.

Once the bear is poked it is incited and there is always payback.  As you look back their unreasonableness is clear like 20/20 hindsight.  It is so clear as you look back.

Then you have to be kind to yourself and forgive yourself for the fact that you wasted so much time — good months and years — with someone who never deserved your empathy, patience, kindness and grace.  It’s not deserved because it was never extended to you; these beautiful character traits were only ever required of you.  And that’s not love.

When you’re in a relationship that always feels like where there’s a problem it’s your fault, you’re constantly aware that while they look like an adult in physical stature, they’re actually more like a 5-8-year-old in character.  But being a ‘big person’ they will feel like they must master you to project the feeling for both them and you that they’re in control — over the relationship and over you.  You know this when they reward you for obeying their will and when they punish you for disobeying.

Their love is punctuated by control — which isn’t love.  It is highly conditional.  It is a ‘deserved’ love and that actually means it’s not love at all.

It can take a long while to overcome the thinking that says:

§     “It’s okay, they’ll change.”  They probably won’t.

§     “It’s probably in some way my fault.”  No, it isn’t your fault.  Their abuse is their choice.

§     “I really need to be certain before I choose to leave the relationship.”  Empathise with yourself.  You don’t need any more pressure on you as to when to make that choice.  But you also know it probably won’t change.

§     “I’m really not sure what to think.”  Remember that abusive relationships are all about crazy making.  Being constantly confused is a sign you’re in a toxic relationship.

Photo by Tiago Bandeira on Unsplash 

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The difference between narcissism and not is repentance


Let’s think about the label, ‘narcissist’.  There’s only one way to prove the label wrong.  That is to repent from all behaviours of manipulation.  It is to turn from feeding off and the exploitation of others.  To the absence of empathy.  It is to reject the polarising admiring and rejecting of others.

Of course, everyone can get it wrong from time to time.  We all have the capacity to manipulate people and situations.  We’ve all engaged in it.  But it’s the narcissist who is characterised by it; it’s their default.  They can’t help themselves because feel justified to manipulate.  If a person labelled as a narcissist wants to throw off that narrative, now is the time and opportunity to show that manipulation isn’t truly their default behaviour.  (If it has been, the first step is to confess it before anything else — repentance necessarily needs to be a constant and lifelong process; by this is defined true Christian faith.)

For those who live with a narcissist, or those who cannot escape the web of deceit they’re trapped in, the only wish is that there would be safety without needing to:

§     walk on eggshells;

§     second-guess every move;

§     worry constantly that a word spoken in truth would elicit rage or long sulking withdrawals;

§     experience the derision of contempt;

§     watch every action for the layering of motive;

§     etc............. (meaning, I’ve only scratched the surface).

Those who find themselves shackled to a narcissist are entitled to wiggle free of that bondage, but the paradox is the narcissist is full of spite in landing the last punch when others would gently deliver the message.  For the narcissist, it’s full-on admiration or you don’t matter anymore!  No in-between.  No ‘live and let live’.

For those who might be labelled a ‘narcissist’ there is a way forward: 

They can prove their world wrong by exercising repentance.

Actions speak louder than words.  Repentance is about action, not words.

Words of intent that aren’t followed through demonstrate nothing.

They must stop shouting, withdrawing, refusing to listen, and just simply act out of the humility of Jesus by serving others.

They must start doing it and keep doing it........ for.... ever......

Actions of kindness, patience and grace are full of faith that slowly change people’s perceptions.  But change must stick — it must be for the rest of their life.  

Change will be noticed not after days of change....... but months, even years.  It will only be noticed if they keep doing it consistently.

Kind, patient and gracious actions come from faith that trusts that the kind, patient and gracious actions will be seen at the right time WITHOUT them drawing any attention to themselves which would only defeat their purpose.

Kind, patient and gracious actions must be done for Jesus and our Lord and Saviour alone.

Every human being that has ever wronged another human being, who is truly ‘in Christ’, can see what’s required to make amends.  What is required is to make amends!  No excuses.  No, ‘I did this, but you did that’.  None of that!

Such action comes from a heart that seeks to rebuild what was precious yet destroyed by their own actions.

Narcissists are in the business of destroying people and relationships — and they’re the only ones who cannot see it.

Nothing that is destroyed, however, is beyond rebuilding if only the narcissist can repent.  Here’s the paradox: anyone who repents, by definition of their capacity to be honest, is not a narcissist.

So there’s your motivation to prove you’re not narcissistic: repent.  Prove you can make the actions count and do what it takes.  Go on, do it.  Be a Christian.

Christians are characterised by the fruit of the Spirit that underpins repentance — a constant turning back to God in their behaviour that shows that glorifying God is their supreme goal, wanting more what God wants than what their hearts desire.

The person labelled as a narcissist is in an opportune position with the survivor of their abuse.  The survivor desperately wants their abuser to stop doing what they’re doing.  If only the abuse will stop, and the abuser can turn it around.  The real narcissist won’t.  They will admit to nothing and they will commit the reprehensible secondary abuse of refusing to admit what they did.  But just about every abuse is recoverable if only the abuser owns up and faces the survivor with the truth.

The real test of spiritual strength is to admit our fault, to confess it.  That takes courageous vulnerability that is beyond the shallow, hollow narcissist.

There you have it.  By their fruit we will know them.  We can all bear the fruit of the Spirit through repentance and be vindicated.  But whoever continues in their toxic ways deserves the label.

Photo by Jim Wilson on Unsplash